No Stranger to the Grind
No Stranger to the Grind
Amanda Clark has spent nearly 15 years as a member of the U.S. Sailing Team Alphagraphics. But that won't make winning a berth on the 2012 Olympic team any easier, which is just fine by her. From our November/December 2011 issue.
“[High-school sailing] just wasn’t enough,” says Ellen Clark. “She’d sailed against all these European sailors before, and they were doing the Europe dinghy [and aiming toward the Olympics].”
The 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials in the Europe class were an eye opener for Clark. She had a front-row seat for the pitched battle, on and off the water, between Meg Gaillard, the top U.S. sailor in the class, and Courtenay Becker-Dey, the 1996 Olympic bronze medalist who’d returned to the singlehander after missing selection in the 470 six months earlier.
The latter’s mental toughness won her that regatta—and the Olympic berth—and it showed Clark, who finished third, what was required to win at that level.First, though, she had to come to terms with fact that, at 5'3", she was too short to sail the Europe. Prodded by coach Larry Suter, Clark switched to the 470. She was a quick study, finishing third in her first regatta, the 2001 Rolex Miami OCR.
She eventually settled on Sarah Mergenthaler as her crew. Mergenthaler was a multisport star at the University of Richmond: track and soccer. Sailing had been her social sport. But she, like Amanda, was intensely competitive.
Together the two climbed the 470’s steep learning curve, becoming one of the top teams in the United States and the world. At the 2003 U.S. Olympic Trials on Galveston Bay, they finished second to Katie McDowell and Isabelle Kinsolving.
“That’s one of the first times I’ve ever seen Amanda break down,” says Ellen Clark. “I ran out up to my knees in the water [to meet the boat]. She was just sobbing. That’s not Amanda at all. Hence why she went again.”
While back home decompressing after the Olympic Trials, Amanda Clark started spending a lot of time with Nissen, who’d come to Shelter Island to work at Camp Quinipet.
Nissen jokes that they caught each other during dual moments of weakness—Nissen had just quit a job he didn’t like—but his laid-back attitude is the perfect foil for his wife’s competitiveness.
The fact that she now lives at Camp Quinipet, just a few miles from her childhood home, makes Clark laugh. She came to the camp a few times in her youth. “I didn’t like it,” she says. “My memories are of damp concrete and spiders.” Her childhood dreams had her a long way from Shelter Island.
“I figured I’d marry a foreigner,” she says, “and live abroad for a while.”